fried seafood plate at Second Line in Memphis
features shrimp, oysters, catfish, and hush puppies
Tenn. — On a Saturday morning last month at Central BBQ,
soon after the place opened, people already were lined up
out the door. The smell of smoked meat hit us as soon as
we got out of the car. The ordering process was brisk, and
the dining room filled up quickly. This was a place for
that’s true for Memphis as a whole, a city whose dining
scene has broadened in recent years, thanks to a community
of chefs and a passionate clientele.
I first opened, Memphis was a meat and potatoes kind of
town," said Central BBQ owner Craig Blondis. "In
the past 10 to 15 years it’s taken off tremendously. We’ve
got a lot of good chefs in town; it’s not just
what’s a trip to Memphis — a dining trip, no less —
without at least one good plate of the city’s specialty.
and co-owner Roger Sapp opened Central in 2002 after years
of competing in local and regional barbecue contests.
Their ribs are dry style, marinated in a rub for 24 hours
and then slow-cooked with smoke hickory and pecan wood for
four to five hours.
we were at Central, my husband’s order of ribs ($15.99
for half slab, $22.99 for full slab) was black with char,
so each bite had a slight crunch that gave way to the
tender meat underneath. Blondis even throws a bone to
non-meat eaters, not just with a good set of salads and
sides but also with a portabella mushroom sandwich
($4.99), marinated in balsamic vinegar, olive oil and
spices and served on a soft bun with Gouda cheese, a
dollop of slaw and mild sauce.
restaurant offers four different sauces to accommodate
visitors with different tastes.
however, recommends ordering the meat without sauce.
"If barbecue is cooked properly, the sauce is meant
to be an accompaniment," he said. "You want to
taste the rub, the smoke flavor."
visits to Graceland and Sun Studio, tourists could easily
spend an entire trip trying barbecue spots in town, but
the city is a feast of other food offerings.
people are surprised about with Memphis dining is how
diverse it is," said Kelly English, a chef who has
built a reputation for food inspired by his New Orleans
hometown. English trained for years with famed Louisiana
chef John Besh and opened his first venture in Memphis,
the French-Creole Restaurant Iris in 2008. Five years and
many accolades later, including being named one of Food
& Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs and a 2010 James
Beard semifinalist for Best Chef Southeast, he opened the
more casual Second Line next door to Restaurant Iris.
says chefs are putting their personalities into their
menus. "People’s stories and their heritage and
family histories are coming out in their food," he
English that’s especially true with Second Line, which
has the kind of New Orleans food the chef grew up with: po’boys
and fried seafood. And the restaurant, set up in a
converted house, feels homey. The orange, blue and brown
interior gives the space warmth, and a few TV screens let
diners know it’s OK to sneak a peek at the Memphis
appetizers are listed on the menu under the heading
"eat these things first," so we did. English
pays tribute to his mentor with Besh BBQ Shrimp ($13),
made with a sauce of butter, Worcestershire, lemon ... and
more butter. As our server noted, the shrimp and the bread
that goes with it are really just vehicles to enjoy that
sweetened browned sauce. The andouille, crawfish and
pimento cheese fries ($12) are as indulgent as they sound,
oozing with cheese with healthy chunks of crawfish atop
firm, slightly glistening french fries.
is faithful in his approach to the sandwiches of his
hometown. "The po’boy’s downfall is when it’s
gussied up too much," he said. The bread is from
Leidenheimer’s in New Orleans, served with iceberg
lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayonnaise. In the fried Gulf
oyster po’boy ($15) that bread and the generous portions
of the seafood deliver a good crunch but don’t weigh
down the dish.
fried seafood plate ($18) uses a crispy, cornmeal-flour
coating for shrimp, oysters and catfish, and the same
treatment for slightly sweet, cakelike hush puppies.
Frankly, if it weren’t a nutritional no-no, the next
time I go to Second Line, I would just get a big plate of
hush puppies and cheese grits ($4), the best use of corn,
cheddar and butter that I’ve ever tasted.
Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman honored their Italian
heritage and gave it a Southern twist when they opened
their first restaurant, Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen in
2008. But like English, the duo wanted to show another
side to its cooking and opened a casual sister restaurant,
Hog and Hominy, in East Memphis in 2012.
the outdoor bocce court to the cheery, plaid-shirted
servers, Hog and Hominy emits a laid-back attitude. The
Neapolitan-style pizzas make up a third of the menu, so we
opted for the Prewitt ($15), with fontina, tomato sauce,
scrambled eggs and boudin sausage. The pizza’s creamy
and salty toppings complement each other (and uphold my
rule that everything tastes better with an egg on top of
it). The crust is thin, soft in the center and light and
chewy on the edges. Dishes are served family style, and
come out of the kitchen when they’re ready. Of the From
the Farm selections, one standout is the kale salad ($12),
which includes kale, Kalamata olives, red potatoes and a
delicate smoked catfish with buttermilk dressing. A more
unusual dish was the leeks ($14), a kind of deconstructed
vegetable tamale with shrimp, sun-dried tomato, peanuts
not leave Hog and Hominy without dessert. Peanut Butter
Pie ($7) riffs on the Elvis sandwich with layered banana
pudding, peanut butter and whipped cream on a cookie
crust. The Carol’s Delighful Smile pie ($7) is a
chocolate-lover’s dream with an Oreo crust, chocolate
filling and crumbled Whoppers on top. I know why Carol is
spot that tells a different kind of story that’s worth
experiencing is Kwik Chek in midtown. A convenience store
that also has a menu of Mediterranean and Korean
specialties, it may not have a lot of ambiance but it has
bibimbap ($9.99). The Korean comfort food is made with
rice topped with vegetables, chili pepper paste and a
cooked-perfectly fried egg.
you place your order at the counter, sit at one of the
eight tables next to commercial-size freezers and racks of
candy, and try a plate of mandu ($4.59), small dumplings
filled with pork and beef (a vegetarian version also is
available). When your sizzling bowl of bibimbap arrives,
don’t dive in immediately. Wait a couple minutes for the
rice at the bottom to crisp a little from the heat of the
bowl, then stir everything together and let the egg yolk
ooze over the rice, tofu (or chicken or beef) and
julienned vegetables. You don’t need a nice tablecloth
to have a memorable meal.
the main nighttime tourist attraction is the bars and
blues clubs on Beale Street, close at least one of your
evenings at the Lobby Bar in the elegant Peabody Hotel.
This seating area also is the best location to watch the
famous ducks march at 11 a.m. every day from the hotel
elevator to the fountain in center of the lobby, or see
them retire for the evening with a walk back to the
elevator at 5 p.m. The lobby is packed around duck-viewing
times, so get a seat early if you want a good spot.
a less crowded experience, go late to enjoy a cocktail and
dessert. The chocolate espresso tiramisu ($7.50) is served
in an edible chocolate cup filled with mascarpone cheese,
cream and espresso-soaked ladyfingers. (Yes, we ate the
entire cup.) The blueberry mojito ($13) mixes muddled mint
and blueberries with Stoli Blueberi, lime juice, simple
syrup and soda. The drink isn’t cloying, and the
blueberry, lime and mint combine for a clean flavor. Don’t
let the crushed berries go to waste; they soak up the
liquid and are worth sampling.
a classic brunch spot that also captures some Memphis
history, try the Majestic Grille. Housed in a building
that was originally built in 1913 as a movie theater, the
Majestic Grille pays tribute to old Hollywood with a large
screen that shows old movies and cartoons.
Patrick Reilly has a something-for-everyone menu with
salads, flatbreads, sandwiches, French toast, and shrimp
and grits. The specialties include four kinds of eggs
Benedict ($10-$15) — classic, filet mignon, crab cake
and artichoke — that are served with generous chunks of
breakfast potatoes. The Majestic Mimosa is a great deal,
$14 for a bottle of Champagne, orange juice and orange
slices. But before you taste your entree, you have to stop
eating the buttery biscuits served at the start of the
meal. They’re hard to beat.
BBQ: 2249 Central Avenue (also 147 East Butler Avenue and
4375 Summer Avenue in East Memphis), 1-901-272-9377,
Line: 2144 Monroe Avenue, 1-901-590-2829,
and Hominy: 707 West Brookhaven Circle, 1-901-207-7396,
Chek: 2013 Madison Avenue, 1-901-274-9293
Hotel: 149 Union Avenue, 1-901-529-4000,
Grille: 145 South Main Street, 1-901-522-8555,